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Creative Stat Guy!

I play a bit role this week in my friend Jon Heyman’s Stock Watch — I play the part of “creative stat guy.” Let me clear here:

1. I think that’s label is AWESOME. I’d love Creative Stat Guy to be on my business card.

2. Jon is my friend. I’ve worked with Jon, read Jon, and I respect Jon. We don’t see baseball the same way all the time. That’s supposed to be a fun thing.

OK, that out of the way, I got my part in Jon’s column for one of my zillion-shmillion Mike Trout-Miguel Cabrera posts — in this one I pointed out that one way that Mike Trout has helped his team (and Miguel Cabrera has not) is by reaching on error. It’s a small thing, minuscule, so unimportant and insignificant that baseball statisticians for more than 100 years have ignored it. No, it’s more than simply ignoring it. They actively have punished players for reaching base on error. They have called those plays “outs” even though no out was recorded. They have refused to give the player credit for reaching base even though the player actually reached base. This is how the game’s most accepted statistics have been figured for a century. As I’ve written before, I think it’s stupid.

OK, so at the time that I wrote this, Trout had reached on error nine times, Cabrera zero. That’s what Jon quotes. Since then, Trout has reached on error two more times, Cabrera is still at zero.

Does this matter? Of course not. It’s a tiny little piece of a large conversation.

But, you know what? Tiny little pieces are what MAKE UP large conversations. Take a look at the three key rate statistics for the two players:

Miguel Cabrera: .353 BA, .446 OBP, .667 SLG.

Mike Trout: .338 BA, .437 OBP, .574 SLG.

OK, you look at that and you say: Cabrera is the better hitter. You spot a guy 15 points in batting average, seven points in OBP and 93 points in slugging, let’s face it, it will be hard to convince people that Trout makes that up in other ways (even if he does).

OK, now just for fun — repeat just for fun — let’s say that the 11 times Mike Trout reached base on error wasn’t counted AGAINST HIM like it is now but was instead counted FOR HIM. Let’s say that all 11 counted as hits. I know it’s an odd concept, crazy even, but for fun let’s just try it. OK? And we’ll count all of those errors as one-base errors for the purposes of slugging percentage. Can I have a recount, maestro?

Miguel Cabrera: .353 BA, .446 OBP, .667 SLG

Mike Trout: .359 BA, .455 OBP, .595 SLG

Wait a minute! What manner of voodoo is this? Now Mike Trout has a better batting average than Cabrera. And he has a higher on-base percentage. And while his slugging percentage is 70 points shy, still a lot, wouldn’t the MVP discussion be slightly different if those were the numbers? Wouldn’t it be a lot harder for Jon to call Cabrera “incomparable” if Trout was hitting for a better average (and he should be), getting on base more (and he is), leading the league in runs (yep), stealing way more bases and playing better defense?

The MVP argument, like many other arguments out there, splinters off into too many questions that are blurry and worn out and, at this point, thoroughly uninteresting to me. You know the questions: What does MVP really mean? How important are the games they played? Who is the better leader? Whose team is in contention? Who makes their teammates better? Who performed better in the important games? These questions to me are either (A) Irrelevant to the point or (B) A matter of emotional opinions.

Jon, in his article, says this: “If the award were simply for the ‘best’ player, (Trout) would have a better case.”

Well, there’s the point. I think the MVP should go to the best player. Period. Nothing else. More people disagree than agree with me on that, I understand, and Cabrera will certainly win the MVP award in a landslide again, and that’s fine. The question that interests me is just this: Who is the better player, Trout or Cabrera? It’s a classic question, like Mantle-Mays, like DiMaggio-Williams, like Clemente-Kaline, like Brett-Schmidt, like Maddux-Clemens.

People have strong feelings on both sides, particularly on the Cabrera side. I guess that’s why I write more about Trout. His greatness, it seems to me, is not as obvious as Cabrera’s. It is not all tied in the batting average, home runs and RBIs that, for years, were the sole definers of a player’s excellence. Sure, I’ll readily admit, we get silly looking at every little thing. But it seems to me if you are going to compare the two best players in baseball — and they are very close — you should look at everything you can.



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96 Responses to Creative Stat Guy!

  1. boylawyer says:

    The idea that we (baseball fans) have a duty to parse what “valuable” means in order to determine who deserves the MVP is pretty crazy, isn’t it? If we were to make up an award to recognize greatness, would we ever come up with “Best Player on a Team That Played Meaningful Games Into September” or something like that? Of course not. We would reward the best player.

    I have always thought that people who rely on arguments about what “valuable” means in coming up with an MVP are trying way too hard to justify their gut instinct without critical examination.

    • JRoth says:

      I think your argument is with the English language, not with people’s “gut instincts.” In no context does “most valuable”==”best.” People who love cars don’t think that they can end a discussion of which is the best car in the world by dialing up price lists. Value Menus at fast food restaurants don’t usually consist of the tastiest offerings. And if you ask a parent what they value most, it’s pretty unlikely that they’ll point to their car or house.

      Look, I’m sorry it’s called the MVP. If it were just “Player of the Year,” the weight of the argument would shift considerably – you’d still get basically sentimental arguments for guys on winning teams, but those would be the exception, like people who insist that the Cy Young has to go to a pitcher on a winning team (people are so het up about the relationship between Pitcher Wins and CYAs that they’ve obviously missed the fact that, when an award doesn’t have “valuable” in it, voters are perfectly capable of ignoring team quality; unless I’m missing it, only 1 of the last 7 NL Cy Youngs have gone to a pitcher on a playoff team). But as long as the word “Valuable” is in there, people will respond the same way they they do in every other context that they encounter the word, by weighing factors other than precise productivity.

    • djangoz says:

      JRoth – Your car analogy would mean that most valuable player in baseball would be the one who is paid the most. I’ve yet to hear someone make that case.

      Of course MVP = best player. What else could it possibly mean?!?

    • Except the actual instructions for voting define value as “strength of offense and defense.” That’s 100% Trout.

    • Ian R. says:

      Thank you, Mr. Long Name. Now, it’s fair for different people to give different degrees of weight to offense and defense, but the rules don’t say anything about team record or making the postseason.

    • invitro says:

      “but the rules don’t say anything about team record or making the postseason.”

      Actually, they quite explicitly do:

      “The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.”

    • Ian R. says:

      There is that. I suppose my intent was to say that the rules don’t say anything about team record or making the postseason as a qualification for the MVP. The only mention of same indicates that it is NOT a requirement for the MVP.

    • boylawyer says:

      JRoth –

      Thank you for providing a perfect illustration of my point. Much appreciated.

    • Robert says:

      I could essentially not disagree more with JRoth. The word “valuable” being removed wouldn’t materially change the debate. We know this because the Heisman Trophy exists, in which endeavors to identify the most outstanding player in college football but never goes to a player on a team that didn’t win 10 games.

    • Let’s take ‘Most Valuable’ a little more literally and also factor in Salary with performance and being on a contending team.

      AL WAR Leaders (Bball Ref) / Salaries:
      1. Trout 8.6 $510,000
      2. Donaldson 7.2 $492,500
      Cano 7.2 $15,000,000
      4. Cabrera 6.8 $21,000,000
      5. Machado 6.6 $495,000
      Davis 6.6 $3,300,000

      AL WAR Leaders ranked by $/WAR:
      1. Trout $59,000
      2. Donaldson $68,000
      3. Machado $75,000
      4. Davis $500,000
      5. Cano $2,083,000
      6. Cabrera $3,088,000

      Remove players out of playoff as of today:

      1. Donaldson $68,000
      2. Cabrera $3,088,000

      So really Donaldson should be running away with the MVP award.
      Trout should run away with the Player of the Year award.
      Trout and Cabrera should be duking it out for the Offensive PotY (Trout has the edge)
      Trout and Cabrera should be duking it out for the Hitter of the Year (Cabrera gets the edge here)

  2. Dave says:

    I, for one, am excited for the numerous angry posts that are about to flow from this calmly written, well-reasoned post (which are the norm at Joe’s blog).

    I set the over under at six posts before someone accesses Trout fans of being irrationally biased against Cabrera.

  3. Jake Bucsko says:

    The idea that the most valuable player could be anyone but the best player is nonsensical to me. If you are the best player, you are by definition the most valuable player. Think of it like this: if the Angels had Cabrera, would they all of a sudden be better than the Rangers? If the Tigers had Trout, would they be worse off, or worse than the Indians? Of course not. Claiming that Miggy is more valuable than Trout because he has better teammates is so wrongheaded it boggles my mind that anyone still thinks that way.

    • djangoz says:

      I agree completely.

    • BobDD says:

      Me too. Claiming MVP means something other than best allows subjective valuations that meander from year to year depending upon who is being argued for. MVP means the best to me. I am frustrated at the alternate meanings out there, but understand the tradition and mystique of it, while vehemently disagreeing.

    • Ross Holden says:

      What if the best player misses 20 games? 40 games?

    • Watchdog says:

      Branch Rickey memorably told Ralph Kiner after one of his 50-HR seasons “We finished last with you, we would have finished last without you. You’re not getting a raise.” I think a player on a non-playoff team needs to be measurably better than a candidate who led his team to a playoff spot.

    • Ian R. says:

      Funny you mention Ralph Kiner. In his career, he played on two winning teams: the 1948 Pirates (who finished 4th in the league) and the 1955 Indians (who won 93 games but still finished second). He never played in the postseason (though, granted, the postseason consisted of only the World Series back then).

      He’s in the Hall of Fame.

      Were his accomplishments less valuable because they came almost entirely on losing teams?

      Anyway, Branch Rickey’s comment makes sense in the context of personnel decisions for a team. It’s true that it doesn’t make sense for a team to spend a bunch of money on a player who makes the difference between 60 wins and 68 wins. However, the MVP is not a team award, it’s a league award. The most valuable player in the league is the most valuable player regardless of the quality of his teammates.

    • simon says:

      Ross, I feel like that argument can go one of three ways:

      1. The best player misses enough games that, at his rate of production, he provides less overall value than other players and is not the MVP (Yadier Molina was in the MVP conversation this year until he went on the DL).

      2. The best player is so much better that, despite missing 20-40 games, he provides more aggregate value to his team than any other player (Mike Trout 2012, Barry Bonds – MVP in 130 games in 2003).

      3. That player’s team collapses entirely ONLY while that player misses games, and that is taken as a demonstration of that player’s extreme value. I don’t think this happens in baseball very much – I can’t think of an example, but I remember hearing this argument by Value Definers. I’m not really a fan of this argument.

    • Ross Holden says:

      Simon, good points. And WAR again is a good gauge to determine if #1 or #2 is correct.

      Part of my point is to show that MVP does not equal best player in case #1, and most would agree with that, so it’s not as simple as saying MVP = best player.

      I agree with you on point #3 that it’s not a good way to decide MVP. One extreme case I heard is that a voter for NFL MVP a few years ago considered voting for Peyton Manning the year he missed because the fact that they went from a super bowl contender to the worst team in football without him showed how valuable he was. Silly.

    • Ian R. says:

      I really, really hope that that NFL voter was speaking with tongue firmly planted in cheek, as a way to highlight just how dumb #3 is.

  4. Josh says:

    Some people in positions of influence — and Jon Heyman seems to be one of them — spent years ignoring Bill James and then his disciples. So I’m just thankful that Joe Posnanski, with his impressive resume and press credentials, is making these same arguments in a place that Heyman is finally paying attention to them. I’m an optimist, and I think Heyman (and others) will come around eventually. It took me a year of reading Rob Neyer at (when it was brand new at sportszone.something.espn.etc.) for it to sink in.

    • djangoz says:

      I grew up reading Bill James, but Rob Neyer was my gateway as an adult into the modern world of player evaluation. He’s fantastic. Though Joe P. is in a whole other class because of his amazing prose that goes with the intelligent analysis.

  5. Trent Phloog says:

    Hey, let’s vote on all those “Who’s the better player?” questions!

    Williams (would anyone vote DiMaggio?)

    *Just the past two years, obviously. Career value TBD.

    • Toar Winter says:

      I think if you vote Williams, you’d vote Cabrera, right? It seems like the overall strength of game would make DiMaggio the easy choice over the ‘one-dimensional’ Splinter.

    • Andrew says:

      Not necessarily, if Williams’ offense was so much greater that DiMaggio’s defense couldn’t make up the gap. The trick with Cabrera and Trout is that while Cabrera IS a better bat, Trout is a lot closer than most people realize. And when it comes to defense and baserunning…

  6. JRoth says:

    Sorry, Joe, I’m going to keep hammering this nail:

    How many homeruns does Pedro Alvarez have? 32, which is the number that stubborn ignoramuses who believe in errors would claim, or 33, the *real* number, based on how many times he hit a ball and crossed home plate on the same pitch?

    I really – truly – look forward to you answering this some day.

    • Trent Phloog says:

      I say 33… I’m OK with giving Pedro a homer on Denorfia’s misplay.

      Was Carlos Martinez credited with a home run when he hit a fly ball off Jose Canseco’s head? (Yes, he was.) If that’s not an “error,” why should anything be?

    • Atom says:

      The Canseco example makes an excellent, excellent point. Why should that get credit for a home run but not Alvarez?

    • Robert says:

      Why, exactly, do you think this is even a marginal issue for Joe’s point? Joe isn’t saying that errors don’t exist in the real world, because they obviously do. Joe is arguing that errors as a designation of what actually transpires is woefully inept and insufficient.

      Mike Trout stood on base 11 more times than he is given credit for. He was in a position to score 11 times that he was credited as being “out”. It’s absurd. He’s gotten penalized for not doing something that he quite literally *did* do.

    • Robert says:

      Oh, no…we have 2 Roberts and both of us are apparently going to make similar points, because I agree with all of that. This could get terribly confusing for readers.

    • Luis says:

      I think Robert makes an excellent point, and I completely disagree with Robert, he (Robert) makes no sense at all.

  7. Tom G says:

    Talking about MVPs from losing teams he mentions Andre Dawson in 1987: “But they have come in years when their seasons were so much better than anyone else’s.”

    Pretty much destroys his credibility. Doubtful Dawson was even among the 10 best players in the league that year. At least we all agree Cabrera is the best hitter and we’re just trying to understand if the other parts of the game can make up that difference between him and Trout

    • invitro says:

      “At least we all agree Cabrera is the best hitter”

      I doubt this is still true — Trout now has a significant lead over Cabrera in oWAR, 9.3 to 8.6.

    • Atom says:

      HA! That’s amazing because Dawson was nowhere close to the best player that year. Just off the top of my head, the following players had better years (in no particular order):
      Dale Murphy
      Tim Raines
      Tony Gwynn
      Jack Clark
      Eric Davis (putting up very Mike Trout-ish numbers)

      Where did Dawson rank in various categories, in a year when he was “so much better”

      Runs: 15th
      Hits: 6th
      2B: 45th
      HR: 1st
      RBI: 1st
      BA: 22nd
      OBP: 42nd (out of 56 qualified players)
      Slugging: 6th
      OPS: 10th

      In what universe does a player who makes outs at a higher rate than all but 14 qualified players having a “much better season”?

    • Tom G says:

      Runner-up Ozzie Smith would have been a better choice. Makes it hard to say voters were just looking at the league leading home runs and RBIs from Dawson, because Ozzie finished with zero and 75. That was also the year Tim Raines missed an entire month of the season because of illegal collusion

      oWAR does receives an adjustment based on position. If the people using that stat to defend Trout don’t even understand what it means, it’s even more ridiculous than the people who support Cabrera, but don’t bother to learn what it means

      (Also, most believe there is a difference between “hitting” and “offense.” For all the bases stolen by Trout, none of them came when he was standing in the batter’s box with a bat in his hand)

    • Kevin Keller says:

      @invitro — oWAR both a positional adjustment and baserunning, each of which favor trout. fangraphs’ wRC+ is probably the best tool to look at pure hitting because it includes neither of these but does adjust for ballpark and league

    • invitro says:

      “each of which favor trout.”

      Trout is +6 in baserunning, and +3 runs in GIDP, but the positional adjustment favors Cabrera by 2 runs. (I’m getting all #s from b-r.)

      Trout actually leads in pure hitting, Rbat, by 2 runs. I should’ve used that number (or Rbat + Rdp?) instead of oWAR, though, as you suggest. I see Trout leads in raw RC by 4 runs, though. I will look at wRC+… thanks for the pointer.

      I’m excited about following this race to the end, especially with the paucity of “pennant” races this year.

    • Watchdog says:

      You’re assuming I would have voted for Dawson that year?

    • Luis says:

      I think that Dawson had the “little guy sticking it to the man” thing going for him that year. You all know, he told the Cubs to pay him whatever and ended up signing for $500k; his 49 HR’s also came in a time when nobody approached 50 so I guess it was really hard to give it to a “boring defender” albeit a genius one.

    • Luis says:

      I think that Dawson had the “little guy sticking it to the man” thing going for him that year. You all know, he told the Cubs to pay him whatever and ended up signing for $500k; his 49 HR’s also came in a time when nobody approached 50 so I guess it was really hard to give it to a “boring defender” albeit a genius one.

  8. steve2222 says:

    Is the V in MVP, not a bit of an atiquated word anyway which is where the confusion/ discussion comes from. In the 1930s most valuable player probably did mean the best player but as the english language and vernacular has moved on is it possible that the word valuable is interpreted different these days, and gets away from the intended origional meaning???

    Also with regards to the point about errors, i agree with the arguement they should be counted, you put the ball in play, anything can happen, and it also penalises runners like trout whos speed may even create errors. It is obvious though that errors exist for pitchers, as obviously people dont think its fair for the pitcher to be penalised in their era when a routine grounder to be hit to short then thrown into the crowd, if only there was a system that could incorperate and appease both….

    • invitro says:

      You might be interested in reading the instructions to MVP voters:

    • djangoz says:

      Thanks for the link. For those too busy to click it, here is what the BBWAA says to voters about any confusion over what MVP means:

      “The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931:

      1. Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.

      2. Number of games played.

      3. General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.

      4. Former winners are eligible.

      5. Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.”

    • djangoz says:

      Seems pretty clear that the BBWAA is saying the best overall player combining both offense and defense, while also taking into account how many games played.

      Isn’t that pretty much WAR?

    • Djangoz, you left off the most important part to make your case. It’s below, CAPS ARE mine.

      “Dear Voter:

      There is NO CLEAR-CUT DEFINITION of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.

    • BobDD says:

      The MVP was not originally about the best player because players were only allowed to win it once. So that was probably the first divergence from most valuable equaling best. Then the writers took it from there to wrap the V in MVP in the mystique as doled out by them, “keepers of the flame”. Any straightforwardness makes it open and egalitarian and lessens the power of the writers (and the arguments of anyone with an bent to explain away the best).

    • Ian R. says:

      There’s no clear-cut definition, but there’s at least a guideline. The award defines ‘value’ as ‘strength of offense and defense,’ with adjustments for playing time and character.

      Unless you can argue that being on a playoff team makes Cabrera’s offense or defense stronger, there’s no reason to take that into account.

      (Sidenote: I have no problem with Cabrera as MVP. Just don’t use the argument that he’s on a playoff team.)

    • Robert says:

      The playoff team angle was even more stupid last year when the Angels won more games. That crossed the chasm of “how good are my teammates” and into “how bad are the teams in my division” in the realm of things that don’t matter when evaluating a player.

    • Robert says:

      The playoff team angle was even more stupid last year when the Angels won more games. That crossed the chasm of “how good are my teammates” and into “how bad are the teams in my division” in the realm of things that don’t matter when evaluating a player.

  9. invitro says:

    “Who performed better in the important games? These questions to me are either (A) Irrelevant to the point or (B) A matter of emotional opinions.”

    Not that I place much value in this question, but I don’t see how it’s either A or B.

    My main difference with Joe’s tack is this: it decides that a HR with bases empty is worth the same as a grand slam. I think in the MVP argument, clutch hitting should matter.

    • Atom says:

      So, what about players who create clutch hitting situations? It seems like Cabrera is given credit for hitting with runners in scoring position, but very little credit is given to Trout for getting on, stealing 2nd and putting himself in scoring position. Or running the bases better to provide additional opportunities to score? This shouldn’t nullify clutch hitting, but it should be something to look into instead of considering one and ignoring the other.

    • steve2222 says:

      if you read the bbwaa faq ou posted on my comment (thanks btw, i didnt know the criteria were publicly available) clutchness isnt mentioned or even hinted at really.

      You can maybe argue it comes under strength of offense or defence, or possibly disposition but it is not directly mentioned. If someone does wish to include it in stength of offense there are stats which do take that into account such as win probability added, which actually has chris davies leading the AL at the moment, and despite his good season, he probably wont be named mvp.

    • steve2222 says:

      i like your comment atom, if theres value in being clutch there surely should be value in giving someone the chance behind you to be “clutch” too.

    • invitro says:

      “So, what about players who create clutch hitting situations?”

      Great question… they should get more credit, too. Thankfully, WPA gives more credit in both situations. Trout will get more for his on-basing and baserunning in a tie game.

      steve2222: I think there is enough room in the MVP rules to argue that clutch hitting should be included (and enough room to argue that it shouldn’t).

      Currently, Davis is my MVP, with Donaldson 2nd, and Cabrera 3rd.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Josh Donaldson? I feel another “WAR is everything” argument coming. He’s having a very nice year, and all, but if you look at other stats, traditional and advanced, like OPS+, that argument comes apart pretty quickly. I mean Cabrera has an OPS+ of 196. He was “only” at 163 last year. Donaldson is at 143. Another nice Billy Ball guy, but come on.

    • invitro says:

      OPS+ doesn’t include either fielding or clutch hitting.

  10. Dinky says:

    I agree that getting on base via infield error could/should count for the batter. Knowing that Trout is extremely fast puts more pressure on infielders. I am sure that some of Trout’s errors would have been outs for Cabrera. But outfield errors? Foot speed is a lot less important; either the outfielder makes the catch or not, and usually it’s a 2-3 base error. As for valuable versus best, I do think contributions have more value in context of a winning team. Last year I would have chosen Trout for MVP; this year, I’m leaning Cabrera, but the season isn’t over.

    • Atom says:

      Sincere question and I’m not expecting a solid answer, just curious. But, since you think a winning team should be a role in MVP voting, where roughly is that line? How much better does a team on a non-winning team have to be?

      Example: Let’s say both players are 1st baseman are equally good at fielding and baserunning with the same playing time

      Player A: hits .330/.430/.600 with 45 HR and 125 RBI, but his team goes 78-84
      Player B: hits .315/.415/.580 with 40 HR and 115 RBI wins 95 games

      Is player B the MVP in this scenario because his team one, even though A was clearly better? How much more do player A’s number have to go up before he would be the MVP. Alternately, how many more games does player A’s team have to win before they can be be seen as a winning team. 82? 90?

    • DJM says:

      Individual player value has very little to do with the context of a winning team, because outside of tangential events, one player has very little effect on the performance or production of their teammates. Especially as a group.

      1921 Babe Ruth on the 1916 Philadelphia Athletics is still Babe Ruth, but his teammates are still the guys who won less than a quarter of their games (one of four teams to do so ever). That performance may be wasted on that team, but it doesn’t go away, and it isn’t any less valuable.

    • Dave says:

      Factoring in team success raises another issue: what if (hypothetically) the Tigers win the central division by 20 games? How much value did Cabrera provide if the team would have handily won their division anyway?

      If team quality matters (which it shouldn’t), then I guess you should go with the best guy on the team that barely made the playoffs.

    • Ian R. says:

      Given that the Tigers have a pretty easy upcoming schedule, it’s entirely possible that they will win their division by a greater margin than Cabrera’s WAR, especially if the Royals and Indians beat up on each other a bit. He’s at about 7 wins right now (probably 8 by the end of the year), and they have a 4.5-game lead on Cleveland.

  11. djangoz says:

    The idea that MVP would mean anything other than who the best player is reminds me of Presidential elections.

    Are we voting for who will be the best leader of the country or who is the most “Presidential”? I always assumed we were voting for who we think will be the best leader, but plenty of people seem to vote based on who seems the most “Presidential”.

  12. djangoz says:

    Wow. I just read Heyman’s article. It’s not really worth the time, he appears to be a pretty classic baseball dinosaur. He reminds of old time local newspaper columnists – he gets by on bloviating, not doing homework. But the comment section is interesting.

    I think of Joe’s comment section as being somewhat divided about advanced stats, but Jon’s section is like Darwin’s waiting room (to borrow an old Dennis Miller line).

    Yikes! Makes me appreciate the general thoughtfulness here much more.

  13. I believe this video explains why so many normally level-headed people are in love with Mike Trout:

  14. I can’t see any argument for Cabrera being more ‘valuable’ than Trout.

    In 2013 Trout costs: $510,000, Cabrera costs: $21,000,000.

    Trout is also 8 years younger.

    How is a marginally better hitter (which seems debatable) and a worse fielder/base runner worth $20.5 million more? This calls for a list.

    Things you can afford if you had Trout instead of Cabrera:

    Justin Verlander
    The Houston Astros
    A 40 acre Caribbean Island
    41 Manny Machados
    Ryan Howard

    Even if you believe Cabrera is better (possible) and Ryan Howard is terrible (definitely possible), there’s no way anyone would hold that Cabrera is more valuable to his team than Trout.

    • Sam: You can’t see any argument?

      What’s a playoff series worth?

      Geez, what is it with you Trout lovers?

    • Excellent point. Trout’s WAR/$ destroys Cabrera’s, though does any else have a higher WAR/$ than Trout?

    • simon says:

      The difference between them would change if you were to consider value from the Marginal Win Curve instead of considering each win to be equal in value.

      This is really the argument that the MVP should come from a playoff team (which I don’t actually like).

      This page shows the win curve from 7-8 years ago:

      Basically, each extra team win between 80 and 100 is worth more than others, peaking at around 90, because these wins have much more to do with being in playoff contention and/or making the playoffs. Teams that make the playoffs generally are going to make more money. If you consider the rest of the team to be unchanging, the 10 wins that Trout adds to the Angels are regular low-value wins. The 8 wins that Cabrera adds to the Tigers are the highest marginal value wins – say, the difference between an 84-win contender and a 92 win division winner.

      I’m making up numbers because I can’t find the real 2013 values, but suppose Trout’s Wins are worth $1M each, for a total of $10M. Now suppose Miggy’s wins are each worth different (much higher) amounts, for a total of $32M.

      Trout would still crush Cabrera percentage-wise because his salary is miniscule, but both would be providing about $10M of marginal value to their teams, beyond their salary.

      Depending on what the numbers actually are (and I don’t think these are TOO far off), then I think you could actually make the argument that Cabrera is more ‘valuable’ than Trout.

    • Brett Alan says:

      Factoring salary into it is insane. It’s the most valuable player, not the player who delivers the best value for the money.

      Obviously if Trout were on the open market, he would be making a lot more. And when he does hit the open market (barring a catastrophic injury or something), he’ll get paid for what he’s done so far. That’s completely irrelevant to this discussion.

    • Unknown says:

      @Brett: Nobody gets paid for what they’ve done so far. They get paid for what they’re likely to do in the future.

  15. Devon Young says:

    The problem with crediting a batter for a ROE (reached on error), is that reaching on error isn’t seen as a skill the batter possesses. If people saw it that way though, then they might even see that BA isn’t a skill a batter possesses either, but just a result of defensive ineptitude. People just don’t want to see baseball that way.

    BTW… if you add a player’s TB & his SB, it would show how many bases a player reaches without the help of his teammates. I like to call that, “Earned Bases”, ’cause they earned it all by themselves. That’s obviously really helpful to an offense. Anyway… if you do that for both Cabrera & Trout, through yesterday’s games… Cabrera has 334, & Trout has 334. Incidentally, they’ve also both scored 96 runs. Interesting eh?

  16. BobDD says:

    This argument, very similar and at least as hotly debated, first took place with Dimaggio and Williams. Twice Williams won the triple crown with Dimaggio winning the MVP. The prevailing arguments of that day as that Dimaggio had more hits and was a better fielder and baserunner. But what was not a part of the debate back then was that Dimaggio made 88 more outs in 1942. Now we, at least on this site take outs into account, but arguments is still along the line of one player has value more hidden by traditional stats than the other. Williams was unfairly dinged for it in earlier generations. Will we be smarter, or still hold to the simpler more obvious stats only, and let more knowledgeable fans joke about us in later years as we do the blind writers of the Dimaggio/Williams day?

  17. LargeBill says:

    Joe, Great point. Some players who run out every grounder do seem to induce errors from the opposition. Grady Sizemore seemed to get robbed quite a bit on these type plays. He ran out everything, so SS or 3B who might take time to make a good throw late rushes and throws it away. Suddenly, official scorer decides it’s an error and not a hit.

  18. Alejo says:

    The key question in Heyman’s column is:

    “…does anyone really believe Trout’s MVP candidacy is enhanced even a little by those nine extra times he reached base via error?”

    I think our blogger does not convincingly answer it.

    Another question: is Trout season’s really 24.6% best than Cabrera as WAR suggests?

    Not in a million years.

  19. Alejo says:

    Dear Blogger,

    Nothing on Rafa? He is the Willie Mays of tennis, only with bigger cojones.

  20. Alejo says:

    Dear Blogger,

    Besides this “counting reaching base on error” (which is, you know, kind of whining about “the rules not going my way”), you have also mentioned “park advantage” (turns out Miggy’s better on the road), base-stealing (which at some point you decried as useless) and defence (left field guy vs. core infielder)

    The case for Cabrera is not airtight, but pretty solid, and you haven’t really made a clear dent on it.

    As David Schoenfield puts it:

    “Cabrera is hitting .418 with runners in scoring position and .383 with men on base. With two outs and runners in scoring position he’s hitting .466. In tie games he’s hitting .351/.447/.696. When the margin in the game is greater than four runs, he’s hitting .246/.306/.385 in 72 plate appearances; in other words, he’s not piling up the stats in blowouts. It’s almost like Cabrera tunes out when the game has been decided. Trout, meanwhile, has hit .331 with runners in scoring position and .309 with men on, good but not Cabrera. He’s hit .471/.554/.843 in 83 PAs when the margin is greater than four runs. “

    There you have your MVP.

    • Trent Phloog says:

      Dear Blog Commenter,

      Comparing batting lines in close game situations vs. blowouts is just a crude way of measuring how “clutch” a guy has been. If “clutchness” is your criterion, consider a stat that actually measures that with precision — Win Probability Added.

      This year the AL leader in WPA is Chris Davis (though Cabrera is no slouch himself, placing second) — so THERE you have your MVP.

    • clashfan says:

      Interesting how you slant your writing to make it seem as though Joe is whining and dishonest.

  21. Toar Winter says:

    Back in 1968, when MLB went to division play, the league decided to hold the MVP vote (and all award voting) at the time in the season when it had always been– after the regular season was completed. Unfortunately, they failed to realize that up until that time, after the regular season and AFTER THE PENNANT HAD BEEN DECIDED were exactly the same time. This inherently changed the ‘valuable’ metric in the minds of the voters without anyone really noticing. Before 1968, about 75% of MVP winners came from pennant winners. After 1968, only 25% came from pennant winners. Since 1968, it makes sense that voters (and fans) would lean towards ‘best player’ arguments when determining their MVP, because we’ve been instructed to ignore postseason accomplishments. It also makes sense to me that when analyzing pre-’68 votes, that playing on a pennant winner was a big factor in those votes.

    I wonder if baseball had ruled to hold award votes ‘after the pennant had been decided’ during the Divisional play era, if any of the MVP votes would have changed, or if it would affect this argument at all, especially if Cabrera has a big postseason. I think Jeter probably would have one or two MVPs in his trophy case, as well as Rivera, in the least.

  22. Ross Holden says:

    The best player = MVP is easier in baseball than other sports because, at least for everyday players, their potential impact is about the same. I believe that starting pitchers have about the same potential for impact as everyday players. (I’ve said this before here but I don’t believe in the “A starting pitcher can’t be the MVP because he plays only once every 5 days” nonsense.) However I do think it would be tough for a relief pitcher to add enough value to be MVP. (For a quick reference point, I looked for Rivera’s greatest WAR and it was 5.0 in 1996. Fun fact there – he wasn’t yet the closer and only saved 5 games. More good evidence that the save is overrated.)

    It’s tougher in football. There are cases where the “best player”, i.e. maybe the most dominant at their position, isn’t an MVP candidate because they can’t add enough value at their position. QBs have their impact overrated for sure, but it still does make sense that it’s tough to vote for an offensive lineman, etc. for MVP.

  23. Mark Daniel says:

    I think what’s getting ignored here is that Mike Trout is a fabulous hitter. Everybody seems to agree that Cabrera has been otherworldly this year:
    .353/.446/.667 with 43 HRs.
    But Trout isn’t that far off:
    Aside from slugging, that’s better than Pujols during his first astounding 10 years in the league. Trout is an outstanding hitter, period.

    Now, I don’t buy the ‘Trout is a great defensive player’ angle. Trout’s dWAR this year is -0.9. Derek Jeter, the same guy everybody calls the worst defensive player ever, only had 5 seasons with a dWAR lower than that.

    So what it comes down to, IMO, is baserunning. Does Trout’s baserunning, manifested in SB, CS, ROE, 1st to 3rd, outs on the bases and whatever else they throw into their equations, overcome the batting value of Cabrera? This seems heretical to many, but as I said above, the two players are just not that far apart offensively. Small things add up, and in this case they close the batting gap between the two because that gap wasn’t that big to begin with.

  24. Scott Lucas says:

    In 2002 Alex Rodriguez won the gold glove and silver slugger award, but Miguel Tejada, playing the same position (less effectively per the same writers) and having a much less productive bat, won the MVP. This debate is pointless because no one agrees on what the MVP means.

  25. Jeff says:

    It seems to me that if you say that Player A is better than Player B, but Player B should be the MVP because his team won, what you’re really saying is that Player B is more valuable because his teammates are better than Player A’s teammates. It makes no sense to me to base an individual award on how good a player’s teammates are.

    • Mark Daniel says:

      I don’t think that’s quite right. The argument is that it’s more difficult, or maybe more meaningful, for a player to produce while in a pennant race compared to producing on a team that is 15 games out of 1st place. The stakes are higher in the former situation.

      Now, I don’t think being on a winning team should bump a player over another player who is significantly better. But if they are more or less the same, I don’t have a problem with picking the guy from the winning team, sort of as a tiebreaker.

    • invitro says:

      What is the evidence that producing for a team in a pennant race is more difficult than doing so for a team 15 games out of first?

    • Mark Daniel says:

      invitro, I don’t think there is any evidence. Maybe “more difficult to produce” was the wrong phrase. The argument, though, gives a benefit to being in a pennant race. Maybe it’s because it matters who wins games in a pennant race, while if you are 15 games out, nobody cares who wins. I also assume there’s more external pressure during a pennant race, and the stakes are certainly higher. As such, you probably get more credit than you deserve if you hit .350 in September during a pennant race, but you also run the risk of becoming a huge goat, too. I, for one, think that’s something that gives a player in a pennant race a slight edge over someone who’s not, all else being equal.

  26. The MVP award is not the best player award. If it was, they would call it the most outstanding player award, or something like that. It is the player who provided the most value. Last year, there was a serious debate as to whether that player was Trout or Cabrera. This year, not so much. Trout is having an outstanding season, maybe the most outstanding, but his value is diminished because the Angels are not doing as well as last year. If he’s not there do the Angels win fewer games? Certainly. Would it matter? Not really. While the MVP certainly does not have to come from a playoff team, playing well for a team in the hunt for the playoffs is more valuable than playing well for a poor team, like the Angels this year. If you want an award for “most outstanding season,” look no further than the Cy Young.

  27. Instead of counting errors as outs or hits, we should dismiss them from Hits and At Bats. It is unknown whether the fielder messed up or the hitter forced the error. We should do what would be done in research, dismiss the data as inconclusive (or further investigate and determine Errors on individual basis).

    Trout’s New Stats:
    BA ~ .345
    OBP ~ .445
    SLG ~ .586
    OPS ~ 1.031

    New Formulas:
    BA = H / (AB – E)
    OBP = H + BB / (PA – E)
    SLG = (1B + 2 * 2B + 3 * 3B + 4 * HR)/(AB – E)

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